Tuesday 24 October 2017

Most clubs would love Chelsea's problems

Jose Mourinho's will to win and attention to detail set him apart, says Richard Sadlier

Eden Hazard of Chelsea in action
Eden Hazard of Chelsea in action
Richard Sadlier

Richard Sadlier

Imagine the scenes in the away dressing room at Anfield last Sunday. A clean sheet, two goals scored, three points taken. Imagine the elation and the relief, the joy and the pride. Imagine whatever else you like, but think how the Chelsea players felt at the time about Jose Mourinho.

Contrast that to how he is viewed elsewhere. Many people seized upon Mourinho's suggestion in the build-up to the game that Chelsea may field a weakened team against Liverpool. How could he be so willing to make a mockery of the title race in this way? It was all in danger of becoming a farce and Mourinho was to blame.

The post-match analysis focused on Mourinho's tactical plan. Most intelligent observers praised him for his approach but he was being hammered in some quarters for how Chelsea had played. They kept the best attacking force in the Premier League at bay and some people still weren't impressed by the way they did it. Predictably, Brendan Rodgers had a pop at him for how they played.

Then his approach against Atletico Madrid and his response to going 2-1 down drew further criticism. A squad that has cost that amount should be capable of more. Apparently, it's time for Jose Mourinho to seriously rethink his approach.

Failure to reach the final of the Champions League and Eden Hazard's comments about Chelsea's style of play are this week's reasons. Last week it could have been his touchline antics at Anfield, the week before it was his comments about the match officials following defeat to Sunderland. In any other week it could be his mood, his tone or his demeanour.

From what is being said about him you would think Chelsea were floundering, chasing Tottenham for sixth spot or wondering why they made no impact in Europe. You would think Chelsea fans were booking planes to fly over Stamford Bridge or making signs like they're doing at West Ham. If you didn't know any better, you would think Chelsea's appointment of Mourinho wasn't working out.

For a bit of context, it's worth mentioning that Chelsea will be top of the Premier League if they beat Norwich this afternoon. It's the best home record against the worst away one so it's hard to see any other outcome.

They may only occupy top spot for little more than a day, and they could well be third by the time they play next weekend, but with seven days to go, they'll be the team to catch.

It's difficult then to listen to people suggest he is holding the team back by adopting a defensive approach. It's as if the need to defend well is no longer recognised. The discipline and concentration required to do what they do is not given the praise it deserves. Brendan Rodgers epitomised this attitude last week when he said it takes very little coaching to get a team to play in that way, but Mourinho offers much more than a cautious approach.

If Liverpool defended as well as Chelsea they would be champions already. If Arsenal had their mental toughness they would be playing for more than finishing fourth. If David Moyes could motivate players the way Mourinho does he'd still be in a job. Few managers come near him for his meticulous attention to detail, but most come nowhere near his desire to win.

His response to Hazard's comments was spot on also. How many managers would have said something bland about everyone having a right to their own opinion? Mourinho highlighted Hazard's role in the defeat and shifted the focus

back to the player's lack of team ethic. It was swift and brutal and effective. It was Hazard's failure to follow his instructions which cost the team rather than the instructions being unsuitable in the first place.

Mourinho took Chelsea further than any English team in Europe and they are still in contention to win the league in his first season back. He's being made out to be the most problematic of characters, particularly after his spell at Real Madrid, but he brings the kind of problems that most clubs would love to have. Last week's dilemma was how to juggle a Premier League title challenge with the quest to be champions of Europe.

Now go back to the Anfield dressing room last weekend. Chelsea won the game because the players stuck to his instructions. They were looking ahead to a Champions League semi-final for the same reason. Tonight they could be top of the Premier League.

He may not be pleasing people on the outside but that's insignificant next to the response he is getting from within. Mourinho has fewer reasons to adapt his approach than anyone else.

rsadlier@independent.ie

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